Hiring for Fit With Data, Not Your Gut

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It is common to say, “Trust your gut!” when it comes to hiring. A hiring manager’s intuition can often be a make-or-break factor in determining a candidate’s fit.

However, gut instinct isn’t always reliable, and it’s rarely supported by data. Instead of relying on such a flawed measure, hiring teams need to screen for candidate fit in a way that can be analyzed and compared, a way that minimizes bias as much as possible. One way to do this is to bring data into the equation: Assess fit by aligning the candidate’s traits and soft skills with those linked to successful behaviors on the job.

But how, exactly, can hiring teams determine candidate fit in a data-driven way?

Gather the Right Data

In order to understand candidate fit, HR teams need to first collect data on both the candidate and the role. One way to do this is through the use of science-based personality assessments. Using a personality assessment during the application process can help hiring teams better understand the lens through which an individual sees the world, their likely reactions to new experiences, and their approaches to environments like the one the company offers. This kind of data can then be linked to the behavior-specific requirements for top performance in the role. The degree of alignment between the candidate’s data and the behavioral requirements can be used to formulate a fit score, which can tell you how likely a candidate is to succeed in the role. Armed with fit scores, recruiters can prioritize the best potential fits without the bias.

To create fit scores for applicants, hiring managers must first identify the traits of an ideal candidate. Just like they would formulate a checklist of skills an applicant needs to have for the job, hiring managers must also craft a personality profile that predicts performance in a given position. This may sound difficult, but you can determine critical fit factors by simply looking at your current employees. Find out what personality dimensions differentiate top performers from the rest in a given role; those are the personality dimensions you need to look for in candidates as well.

For example, if there is an open sales position, it may be ideal to hire someone who scores higher on extraversion. Utilizing the current sales team’s own extraversion scores and performance data, you can set a benchmark against which to measure prospective candidates.

Understand Your Current Culture Versus Your Ideal Culture

Organizations want to assess candidates for culture fit, but ironically enough, most employers do not have a good handle on what their cultures are actually like.

Company culture is often treated as static. Organizations take a “set it and forget it” approach. The truth, however, is that culture evolves and changes over time. Your culture in practice may not be the same as your culture on paper. Before you can determine a candidate’s cultural fit for your organization, you need to understand the difference between the culture you want and the culture you actually have.

In 2020, many companies are already experiencing new challenges and having to quickly adjust their operations. Now is a good time for companies to take stock of their existing cultures and consider the cultures they would like to foster going forward.

Start by assessing the existing culture of the organization. You’ll need to look at both your explicit culture and your implicit culture. Your explicit culture consists of your written values, formal mission statement, and even your statement of culture, if you have one.

Implicit culture is much harder to evaluate, because it consists of the unwritten rules of the company and how employees behave in practice. Assessing implicit culture requires a deeper dive into the organization. You have to go beyond official documents and communications to find out what life is really like for employees. For example, a company may officially emphasize the importance of work/life balance, but employees may nevertheless feel they are constantly missing important personal events because of work obligations.

There can be big differences between a company’s explicit and implicit culture. Understanding these differences gives you a baseline measurement of where your culture actually is versus where you want it to be. HR teams can utilize this information in combination with candidate personality data  to transform the culture by hiring people who will help the organization reach its cultural goals.

Consider Other Factors

You’ll need to utilize information from various sources — personality data, resumes, interviews, etc. — to determine which candidates will thrive in your open roles. Here are a few questions the hiring team should address to explore each candidate’s fit more fully:

  1. Ask about previous fit, not just previous jobs: Go beyond talking about employment history by asking what a candidate did or didn’t like about their previous roles. This can help illuminate the kinds of company dynamics a candidate needs to thrive.
  2. Define the why: Why does this candidate want to work for your company? What about this role excites them? Both of these questions can help determine if a candidate will consistently perform at a high level and feel fulfilled in the role.
  3. Discuss the candidate’s ideal work environment: It’s a simple question, but hiring teams often forget to ask it: How does the potential candidate like to work? What are their preferences? Do they take a collaborative approach or prefer to manage their own workflow? The insights gleaned from this question can even be used beyond the hiring process to guide the candidate’s onboarding and career path within your company.

Gut instinct alone is rarely enough to make the right hire. Personality data offers a powerful resource that can help identify which candidates are truly likely to thrive in your organization. Taking a data-driven approach to understanding your applicants will produce benefits for both your candidates and your company.

Dr. Heather Myers  is chief psychology officer of Traitify.

By Heather Myers